Healthy teeth lead to a healthy body
Bruce DeGinder has taken a national leadership position in his field at a great time: The connection between a healthy mouth and a healthy body is among the hottest topics in medicine.

DeGinder, 43, will spend the next year as president of the Academy of General Dentistry, a national group based in Chicago. The Newport News native, who has practiced in the Williamsburg area for more than 18 years, hopes he can help more people understand that it really is important to lay off the sugar, brush, floss and see a dentist regularly.

Q: As a little boy, what did you want to be when you grew up?

A: I have wanted to be a dentist since second grade.

Q: Why, and did you ever get squeamish at the beginning?

A: Unfortunately, as a child I was not the best brusher and combined with genetics ... well, it seemed that I had a cavity every couple of visits. When I was in second grade, the dentist used anesthetic while I was having a cavity filled, which I had never had before. I was very impressed that he could repair my tooth pain-free. That's when I decided I wanted help other people have as positive of an experience at the dentist's office. Actually, I don't think I have ever really been squeamish.

Q: You just became president of the Academy of General Dentistry. What does this group do?

A: The AGD is a professional association of more than 37,000 general dentists in the United States and Canada. Members are committed to lifelong learning and staying up to date with emerging research and technology. Our Web site (www.agd.org) is an excellent source of free information for patients.

Q: How is it different from the American Dental Association, which more people know about?

A: The ADA is the umbrella organization of all dentists: general dentists, orthodontists, oral surgeons, periodontists, etc. Each of these subgroups has their own "specialty" association that deals with specific concerns within that respective group. The AGD is the specialty group of general dentists.

Q: What are two or three of your specific goals as president?

A: Increase awareness of how important good oral hygiene really is to overall health, get children started early with dental visits and strive for diversity in membership and leadership within our association.

Q: What are a couple of the most common mistakes people make when it comes to their teeth?

A: Unfortunately, some people wait until a small problem becomes a painful and expensive one before they decide to pursue treatment. To function at peak performance we have to take care of our overall health, and the oral cavity is a vital component.

Q: Do you have any bad habits when it comes to your own teeth?

A: I don't think so. I try to practice what I preach.

Q: There have been so many studies lately that link oral infections with physical diseases, possibly due to bacteria building up in the bloodstream. What do you wish everyone knew?

A: Periodontitis is a chronic, inflammatory oral disease of the gum and supporting tissues that affects approximately 75 percent of American adults at some point in their lifetimes. It has been shown to predispose patients to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and osteoporosis, to name a few. The key is to prevent the development of periodontitis to start with or to interrupt the chain and treat the symptoms as quickly as possible. Dental disease never heals on its own. It has to be treated or it will continue to be a threat to the patient's overall health.

Q: A lot of people are scared of dentists. How can dental practices ease those fears?

A: Acknowledge their fears and let them know they are not alone. Make them as comfortable as possible and educate them on the new technologies and advances in materials that are making it easier for everyone - digital X-rays, lasers, air abrasion machines, etc.

Q: What are the best and worst parts of your job?

A: I really enjoy all aspects of general dentistry and the variety each day brings, but I guess cosmetic procedures would be my favorite because they significantly improve people's self-esteem and willingness to smile. It's interesting how many patients will return with new career opportunities, promotions or other positive life events. I also find it very rewarding to watch children grow up, start families and bring their own children in as patients. The worst part for me is that our community does have a lot of transition. It's always sad to lose great patients from our practice.

Q: What do you see as the most important advance on the horizon that patients will soon see?

A: I am very impressed with the terrific advances on tests from saliva that may assist in the diagnosis of significant health concerns, including diabetes, some cancers, heart disease and many others. Most people visit their dentists more frequently than their medical doctors, so it would be a great advance to assist in the early diagnosis of potential diseases. There also is extensive research going on in the development of vaccines to help prevent tooth decay.

Q: You probably can't say what products you use at home, but what should people look for at the store?

A: It's good to have fluoride as a supplement in your toothpaste and to look for the ADA seal of approval. Soft bristle toothbrushes are best, and the electric and sonic toothbrushes usually result in more efficient cleaning. Waxed flosses like Glide or Total usually are best because they don't tend to shred as easily.